DID YOU READ

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airplane!” (1980)

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airplane!” (1980) (photo)

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In 1970, one movie invented the modern disaster film. After grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation, it made more than any of the “Lord of the Rings”), it spawned three sequels that stretched through the entire decade. But this landmark series is now almost totally forgotten, long eclipsed by the film that so brilliantly spoofed the genre tropes it helped define. In honor of its 40th anniversary, we’re looking back at the “Airport” franchise this week, one film at a time. Today, “Airplane!” said brilliant spoofer of said genre tropes.

Airplane!
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker

Nature of Air Emergency: The passengers of Trans American Flight 209 from Los Angeles had a choice for dinner: steak or fish. Those who chose steak now have another choice: find someone to land their plane after everyone who had the fish, including the pilots, takes ill with food poisoning or crash.

How Does It Hold Up? Aside from a couple of commercial parodies that mean nothing in 2010, pretty well. After watching all those real disaster movies, the thing that struck me rewatching this fake one is how little work the Zuckers and Abrahams had to do to turn drama into comedy. After you’ve watched “The Concorde… Airport ’79” it’s really not that big of a leap to “Airplane!” Actually of the two, “Airplane!” is the more realistic movie, and it involves an inflatable automatic pilot named Otto.

11122010_airplane2.jpgAfter spending a week with George Kennedy and the rest, “Airplane!” is like the first breath of fresh air after eighteen-and-a-half hours on the nonstop flight from Newark to Singapore. Aside from “The Concorde,” which seemed vaguely aware that it was a comedy disguised as an action drama, the “Airport”s are stuffy, stuffy movies. Charlton Heston doesn’t crack a single knowing joke as he rappels onto a moving plane and Jack Lemmon seems to think riding a lifeboat from the bottom of the ocean to the surface to set off a homing beacon in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle makes perfect sense. Even without the great gags like the “Who’s On First?”-esque pilot names (“Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?”), “Airplane!” would be hilarious just for pointing out the silliness of these disaster pictures. It encapsulates the entire “Airport” aesthetic in one perfect sight gag: Robert Stack dramatically punctuating a conversation by removing his sunglasses to reveal a second pair of sunglasses underneath. That’s “Airport” in a nutshell: bluster, machismo, and a total lack of self-awareness.

One of most surprising parts of this week was discovering just how good the first “Airport” was and how little its sequels took from it. The first film holds some genuine tension and human drama, and offers a pretty compelling look at the inner-workings of the air travel industry. The rest of the films are overblown exercises in excess. The arc of the series reminds me of the “Saw” franchise, which turned an original and complex morality tale into an excuse to build bigger and gorier human slaughterhouses. The formula goes something like this: Hollywood takes a fairly nuanced film, finds the most outrageous and sensational elements, and creates sequels showcasing only those parts. So a movie about an airport dealing with disaster begets movies about increasingly outrageous disasters.

11122010_airplane3.jpgAudiences may think they want bigger and better stunts and special effects, but the reason they were drawn to “Airport” were the rich human characters trying to endure and survive. On a technical level “Airplane 1975” and “Airport ’77” are far superior to “Airport,” but on an emotional level, they can’t hold a flare to it. Part of what makes “Airplane!” one of the best spoofs ever made is the fact that for all the wackiness and stupidity we identify with Ted Striker (Robert Hays) and Elaine (Julie Hagerty), and we care about whether they land that plane. They may be dumb, and their memories may be parodies of other movies, but Hays and Hagerty are so sweet and likable that we root for them in ways we never do for Heston or Lemmon.

Blustery and boring protagonists in humorless scenarios make the second through fourth “Airport”s joyless affairs, even with all the action and explosions. Obviously, an airplane disaster isn’t the most “fun” premise for an action movie, but there isn’t ever any sense of relief or pleasure when the planes land safely. That’s why “Airplane!” has endured. It’s fun to watch. We get pleasure when it lands safely, and we get more pleasure when it takes off again with Otto and his autopilot girlfriend at the helm.

Strange But True: According to IMDb, David Letterman auditioned for the role of Ted Striker.

Monday: “Airport”
Tuesday: “Airport 1975”
Wednesday: “Airport ’77”
Thursday: “The Concorde… Airport ’79”
Today: “Airplane!”

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.